The case of meningitis that led to the death of Andrea Jaime (NHS ’17) on Tuesday was bacterial, Assistant Vice President for Student Health Services Jim Welsh confirmed in a meeting with Jaime’s Copley 5 floormates on Thursday night, followed by a university-wide email alerting the Georgetown community of the diagnosis.
According to Welsh, Jaime’s case of meningitis was caused by the meningococcal bacteria and was of serogroup B.
Meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes near the brain and spinal cord, is typically caused by either a bacterial or viral infection.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, viral meningitis is usually not as serious as bacterial meningitis and generally lasts seven to 10 days.
Bacterial meningitis requires immediate medical attention and can lead to a variety of health problems such as brain damage, hearing loss or learning disabilities. There were approximately 4,100 cases of bacterial meningitis in the United States with about 500 fatal cases each year between 2003 and 2007.
At the meeting Tuesday, Welsh offered all residents of the fifth floor of Copley Hall the option to take a single 500 mg dose of Ciprofloxacin, a prophylaxis antibiotic, to prevent the transmission of the disease in case they had been exposed. Slightly under half of the approximately 70 residents of Jaime’s all-girls floor showed up to the meeting, and most students chose to take home the antibiotic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone who has had close personal contact with someone diagnosed with bacterial meningitis take the antibiotic, defining close contact as household members, child care center contacts, and anyone exposed to the patient’s oral secretions, such as through kissing or sharing a cup. Welsh said that the proximity of living on the same dormitory floor was not defined as close contact.
The university also kept the Student Health Center open until 2 a.m. early Friday morning instead of its usual 6 p.m. Thursday closing time to allow students concerned about meningitis to seek antibiotics.
Between 50 and 100 students visited the Student Health Center on Thursday night, according to health center employees, with many visitors saying they chose to seek preventative treatment to be cautious.
Welsh said that the university originally gave the antibiotic just to a small group of individuals who had lived in close contact with Jaime, such as her roommate and her close friends, before they received confirmation of the meningitis as bacterial.
“We were advised at that time by the Department of Health and by the hospital that doing a wider offering of Cipro didn’t make sense because there was no evidence of this bacteria. And now that we know that there is, in my conference call today with the CDC, I asked them about [Copley 5], and I described to them exactly what the living arrangements are like on the fifth floor,” Welsh said at the meeting.“And to be perfectly honest, they didn’t say you must take an antibiotic. They said it would be OK to offer the antibiotic to the residents of that floor.”
Possible side effects of the antibiotic include nausea, mild diarrhea, stomach pain, dizziness and headache, according to information distributed to Copley 5 residents by the university. The antibiotic is also prescribed to treat many other ailments. Although many American teenagers receive a vaccine for bacterial meningitis, there is not currently a licensed vaccine in the United States that protects against the serogroup B strain.
Welsh initially informed the campus community Wednesday that it was unlikely Jaime’s case of meningitis had been bacterial, writing in a university-wide email that “to date, all test results in this case are negative for bacterial meningitis” and that “each day that passes without positive bacterial growth in the tests further decreases the likelihood that this was a case of bacterial meningitis.”
Tests of the meningitis at Georgetown University MedStar Hospital produced uncertain results, and the university sent the results to the CDC for further testing, which confirmed a bacterial diagnosis.
“The CDC ran some tests that were not available at the hospital or at the District of Columbia Department of Health that confirmed that this meningitis was caused by meningococcal bacteria,” Welsh said at Thursday night’s floor meeting.
The strain of bacterial meningitis identified by the university is the same type that was present at Princeton University, Drexel University in Philadelphia and the University of California, Santa Barbara, last year. According to the CDC, eight cases of meningitis were confirmed at Princeton and four were confirmed at USCB. At Drexel, the one confirmed case of meningitis last March was fatal. “[The CDC] got special permission to offer that vaccine at both schools when it was determined that the outbreaks were ongoing and more cases were likely to occur,” Alison Albert, health communications specialist for the Division of Bacterial Diseases at the CDC, wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Welsh said that there have been no other cases of meningitis on campus.
“It is the only case of meningitis that Georgetown has, and we have no evidence that there is an outbreak,” he said.
One confirmed case of meningitis is not necessarily indicative of an oncoming outbreak. According to the CDC, only about 2 percent of cases of meningococcal diseases are caused by outbreaks, with the remainder of the cases occurring sporadically.
According to the CDC, there is no environment risk to Georgetown students, and no further action will be required of the university regarding the fifth floor of Copley.
“With just one case, there’s not much that would happen,” Albert wrote. “If it is meningococcal meningitis, antibiotics would be offered to close contacts of the person who became ill. And it’s common to just see one isolated case with no more cases occurring or leading to an outbreak.
The last confirmed case of bacterial meningitis on Georgetown’s campus occurred over 20 years ago, according to Welsh.
In the email sent late Thursday night confirming the diagnosis of bacterial meningitis, Welsh and Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson advised the community to follow stringent hygiene measures and delineated potential symptoms.
“Signs and symptoms of bacterial meningitis can include high fever, headache, vomiting or stiff neck,” the email read. “Signs and symptoms of a bloodstream infection, which these bacteria can also cause, can include vomiting, chills, rapid breathing, or dark purple rash. These symptoms can develop over several hours, or they may take a few days.”
After experiencing a cold for two weeks, Jaime discovered Friday that she had 105-degree fever. Mansi Vohra (NHS ’17), one of Jaime’s close friends, took her to the emergency room Friday.
“They gave her an IV and they gave her ibuprofen for the pain, and she was released from the hospital because her fever had climbed down to 98.6 degrees, and then on Saturday she was fine,” Vohra said.
Jaime woke up Sunday morning experiencing body aches and other flu-like symptoms. She returned to the hospital, where doctors gave her a spinal tap and confirmed that she had meningitis.
Students, including floormates, have taken the medication and visited the health center to be safe.
Aaron Ravin (COL ’17), a Henle resident who spent time with one of Jaime’s former roommates this weekend, visited the Student Health Center at 11:30 p.m. Thursday but did not end up taking the antibiotic offered to him.
“The guy at the health office assured us her roommates and friends had all been tested and no one had come back as having had it,” Ravin said. “The health office was willing to give out the antibiotic to anyone who wanted it for peace of mind.”
Casey Nolan (COL ’17), a Copley 5 resident, said that the floor meeting settled her concerns.
“I was a little worried at first because bacteria was one of the deadliest forms, but then when [Dr. Welsh] explained how difficult it us to catch it, I figured I’m probably OK,” she said.
Lauren Gilmore (NHS ’17), another resident of Copley 5, agreed, but said that she still plans to take the antibiotic as a precaution.
“I would rather be safe than sorry,” she said.
Anyone exhibiting symptoms, which can occur suddenly, is advised to immediately visit the Student Health Center or visit the nearest emergency room.